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Not Caught With Their Drawers Down : Home improvement: Two entrepreneurs saw a need and filled it by designing and selling systems to restore order to kitchen, desk and bathroom chaos.


M ater artium necessitas is an ancient saying that means "necessity is the mother of invention." If that's true, then a simple kitchen project was responsible for giving birth to Huntington Beach-based Lifestyle Systems.

Five years ago, home economist Dee Cox was designing a kitchen for a client. When it came time to organize the drawers, nothing on the market fit her needs.

"There was nothing versatile enough," she says. "Rubbermaid trays didn't work well for me--the things put in them were either too big or too long, and there wasn't anything else that provided exactly what I needed."

Cox solved the problem by inventing her own organizational system.

Today, Lifestyle Systems offers a variety of drawer organizers that enables homeowners to customize their own kitchens, desks or bathroom drawers.

The company's drawer dividers are white and are made of high-impact polystyrene. The height or width of the drawer being re-done is not a factor--it can be any size: large or small, shallow, narrow or wide.

The divider strips, which come in 1-, 2-, or 4-inch heights and are up to 2 feet long, are snapped at the required length and slipped into adhesive-backed holders to form any compartment size. The strips can be stacked, and no glue is necessary for installation. Aside from a knife, everything needed to turn a disorganized drawer into organized compartments comes in the kit.

"I wanted to create something that was easy and quick to do," Cox says, "and something that anyone could do. It took a lot of thought and a lot of inquiries, but eventually I was able to do it."

Cox went to a friend's husband who was in the plastics industry, and he helped her create a prototype. Refinements in the molds were made, and the product ultimately was taken to a die maker. Other companies became involved as sources for materials, and before she knew it, Dee Cox was president of her own company. While she still designs kitchens, her time is increasingly consumed by running Lifestyle Systems.

Two years ago, Cox devised a drawer/file kit that changes any drawer into a file system for recipes, cards, videotapes or cassettes.

The kit--which includes four grooved strips 23 inches long with self-stick adhesive, three divider strips 2 inches by 2 feet, and eight holders with self-stick adhesive--retails for $10.60.

Other packages are suited for different needs.

The firm's 1-inch dividers are designed for jewelry, cosmetics, sewing notions, hobby tools and even medical instruments. The kit includes instructions on how to cover the strips and drawer with fabric for fine jewelry or silver, although the fabric itself is not included.

"I thought of including fabric but decided against it," Cox says. "People have their own tastes. Some like felt, some like materials with patterns. This way, people can get whatever they like."

The strips can be washed with soap and water, and they can be removed to make the bottom of the drawer easier to clean. In addition, strips can be added and changed later to create different shapes as they are needed.

Cox keeps about 1,500 packages of each divider size on hand as inventory, and reorders accordingly. The system, it appears, is as organized as the drawers of her customers.

The same can be said for Harriet Dallis, owner of a company called Top Drawer. While based in Northridge, Dallis' employees find themselves working in Orange County an average of three days a week.

Top Drawer specializes in custom shelf and drawer linings for kitchens, closets, bars, bathrooms, linen closets, laundry rooms and workshops.

"We utilize all the space in drawers, and make them attractive as well as organized," says Dallis, who, like Cox, started her company five years ago.

She was looking for a house and hated the contact paper she saw lining kitchen and bathroom shelves and drawers. The more she looked, the more she realized there was an opportunity to create a new business.

"I also felt a need to organize people's lives," she admits, chuckling.

Top Drawer uses vinyl material and laminates it onto quarter-inch or half-inch chip-board, a kind of heavy cardboard. The lining panels are then permanently installed in the client's drawers or shelves, and can be washed with all-purpose cleaners or simply soap and water. The labor-intensive procedure, which is customized for each shelf and drawer, averages between $350 and $400 for a normal-size kitchen.

At those prices, design is just as important as practicality.

The company offers 75 decorator colors and textures which won't discolor or fade. Partitioned silverware and jewelry drawers can be lined in vinyl, velvet or silver cloth. Partitions designed for sterling silver contain an anti-tarnishing ingredient and are available in half a dozen colors.

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